The problems with the Lubavitch

Lubavitch vs. the Unions
June 29, 2008, 2:37 pm
Filed under: Real Estate | Tags: , ,
The Daily Pennsylvsanian
Issue date: 6/26/08 

Workers protest non-union construction

Maggie McGrath

The Lubavitch House has been a center for Jewish life at the University since 1980. However, recent picketing efforts by Philadelphia union workers have disrupted the House’s $2.8 million expansion project.

For the past two weeks, picketers from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local Union 98, have protested the use of non-union workers on the project, disrupting house activities, as well as residential life.

“Everyday they wake me up at 8 a.m. … including Saturdays,” said Pine Street resident and 2008 College graduate Eric Leventhal.

“They’re disturbing the peace of the entire neighborhood … it’s incredibly inconsiderate on their part,” he added.

Union picketers have been using megaphones to chant and criticize Lubavitch House Director Ephraim Levin for choosing E. Allen Reeves, Inc., as the general contractors for the project.

“E. Allen Reeves consistently uses subcontractors who do not receive medical benefits for their wives and families [and who have] unfair wages and no retirement plan,” said Robert Bark, business agent for the union.

The general contractors were chosen from an open and public bidding process, and the Lubavitch House’s goal was to simply “take the best bid we could get,” said Levin.

The expansion project is not funded by the University and depends entirely upon support from alumni and private donations.

Levin emphasized that finances were the foremost concern in the contractor selection process.

“We have an obligation to our donors to do the project in the most economical way possible,” he said.

The picketing has not yet interfered with any actual construction, and the project is still expected to be completed in December 2008.

Due to complaints that noise was interrupting religious services, Bark and his volunteers have stopped using the bullhorns – but only for now.

“Our fight is with E. Allen Reeves, but our fight [will also] be with the electrical contractor when he comes on the job,” said Bark.

This means that the bullhorn will return, and not only will it broadcast the union’s protests at 8 a.m. – “the best time to get attention,” said Bark – the protesting will move to Spruce Street and overlap with the start of classes in September.

While Bark does “100 percent feel bad” about disrupting the neighbors, he nonetheless said he hopes his union’s efforts inspire the public to “join in the fight” for fair wages and benefits for workers, he said.

But for residents like Leventhal, keeping the peace is a higher priority.

“Regardless of whether [the picketers] are right or wrong, there’s no need to terrorize the neighborhood,” he said.

While construction takes place at 4032 and 4034 Spruce St. – the permanent location of the Lubavitch House and future Perelman Center for Jewish Life – Lubavitch House activities are functioning out of a temporary location on Pine Street.

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